Marine environment

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

Scotland has some of the most beautiful and diverse marine ecosystems in the world. Marine Scotland is committed to protecting and enhancing these amazing ecosystems to ensure they are safeguarded for future generations to enjoy. Protected areas are used to ensure protection of some of the most vulnerable species and habitats. See a glossary of key terms relating to Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Map showing Scotland’s MPA network, including sites in the Orkney Islands

Map showing Scotland’s MPA network 

The Scottish MPA network includes sites for nature conservation, protection of biodiversity, demonstrating sustainable management, and protecting our heritage. In total the network covers approximately 37% of our seas and comprises:

  • 231 sites for nature conservation protecting a broad range of habitats and species that are found in our seas. Habitats range from rocky shores and sea caves at the coastline to deep sea habitats such as coral gardens and Lophelia pertusa. Species range from harbour porpoise to common skate to puffins
  • 5 other area based measures which protect species such as sandeels and blue ling, as well as vulnerable marine ecosystems
  • 1 Demonstration and Research MPA around Fair Isle to investigate the factors affecting seabird populations and demonstrate the socio-economic benefits of protecting the marine environment
  • 8 Historic MPAs to preserve sites of historical importance around the Scottish coast

In December 2018 Scottish Ministers laid a report in the Scottish Parliament describing progress with implementing the MPA network.

Red Rocks and Longay MPA

The Urgent MPA designation and protection is in place until 9 February 2023. From 9 February 2023, permanent designation and protection will come into force.

We have published further information, including publication notifications relating to the Red Rocks and Longay MPA.

Designations in 2020

On 25 September 2020, Scottish Ministers designated a deep sea marine reserve; view the West of Scotland MPA map. A further 16 sites were subsequently added to the Scottish MPA network on 03 December 2020. These sites included four new inshore MPAs and 12 Special Protection Areas (SPAs). 

These sites contribute to Scotland’s international commitments to protect the marine environment in the North-East Atlantic, as required under the Oslo and Paris Conventions (OSPAR Convention).

Inshore MPAs

Following advice from NatureScot, Scottish Ministers consulted on the four inshore MPAs in summer 2019. These sites protect a range of features including mobile species (such as minke whales, basking sharks and Risso’s dolphins) as well as seabed habitats. Read the consultation analysis report. These sites are:

Scottish Ministers completed a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) post adoption statement, an Island Communities Impact Assessment screening and final Business and Regulatory Impact Assessments in regard to these sites. You can view these documents here: Developing Scotland’s Marine Protected Area Network.

Final advice from NatureScot, including management advice and conservation objectives, and site information, is available on the NatureScot website. In addition, Marine Scotland has prepared recommendations for management in light of the NatureScot advice.

Designation Orders for 2014 inshore and offshore MPAs can be found in the archive .

Designation Order for the Small Isles MPA can be found in the archive.

Offshore MPAs

We consulted on the West of Scotland MPA from 27 September to 31 December 2019. This consultation fulfilled a Programme for Government commitment to consult on a deep sea marine reserve. A consultation analysis report has been prepared. Read the West of Scotland MPA designation order

The West of Scotland MPA is the biggest MPA located in national waters in the entire North-East Atlantic and underpinned by the powers in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

Featuring the deepest parts of Scotland’s seas at over 2,500 metres, the site safeguards some of the most vulnerable habitats and species on the planet, including deep sea sharks, coral gardens and a variety of other fauna.

It provides protection to 14 vulnerable habitats and species, including the Leafscale gulper shark, Orange roughy and Portuguese dogfish. Ten of these habitats and species have been declared as being in decline and under threat in the North-east Atlantic under the OSPAR Convention.

Scottish Ministers completed a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) post-adoption statement and a final Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment in regard to the West of Scotland MPA.

Final advice from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), including conservation and management advice, is available from the JNCC website.

Special Protection Areas (SPAs)

Following original proposals in 2016, twelve marine SPAs were classified on 3 December 2020. These sites are:

  • Solway Firth
  • Seas off St Kilda
  • Seas off Foula
  • Outer Firth of Forth and St Andrews Bay Complex
  • Moray Firth
  • Ythan Estuary, Sands of Forvie, and Meikle Loch (extension)
  • Bluemull and Colgrave Sounds SPA
  • East Mainland Coast, Shetland SPA
  • Sound of Gigha SPA
  • Coll and Tiree SPA
  • Rum SPA
  • West Coast of the Outer Hebrides SPA

On 16 February 2022 two further SPAs were classified:

  • North Orkney
  • Scapa Flow

Final advice from NatureScot and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, including management advice and conservation objectives, and site information, is available on their websites.

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